Policy highlights from the Presidency’s first 50 days
Today is the 50th day of our Presidency of the Council of the EU, which in practical terms involves the chairing of at least 1600 meetings, 180 of which are taking place in Ireland with 15,000 delegates and media attending.
The Irish Presidency is first and foremost about using this leadership role in the pursuit of stability, jobs and growth in Europe. Our policy programme for the six months, available here, sets out in detail how we hope to do this. Of course we cannot achieve everything in the first 50 days of a 181-day Presidency, but among the important steps taken so far are the following:
EU Budget (Multiannual Financial Framework), 2014-2020: negotiations on track
The Irish Presidency was closely involved with President Van Rompuy in his efforts to secure agreement among EU leaders on the 2014-2020 Budget (known as the MFF), with the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade) engaged in key discussions during the period leading up to the 7/8 February European Council. The 27 Member State governments agreed a position that the overall budget would amount to €960 billion.
Now, the Presidency is leading on behalf of Member States in seeking the consent of the European Parliament. Ireland is also leading negotiations on each of the legislative measures which will deploy the MFF across its various policy headings (e.g. Horizon 2020/Research, the Common Agricultural Policy and Cohesion).
Key to this has been extensive contacts with legislative partners in the EU Institutions, notably the European Parliament where from 21-23 January, 20 Irish Ministers presented their priorities including MFF-related priorities at 27 different meetings of EP Committees, while during the week of 4 February, Ministers engaged in 16 hours of debate over two days. Minister Lucinda Creighton in particular has extensive European Parliament commitments in her capacity as Minister for European Affairs.
Real action on youth employment
In the months leading up to the Presidency, the Irish government pushed for youth employment to be given the priority it deserves in EU policy-making. It also pushed for EU resources to be put behind any commitments made.
Youth Guarantee Recommendation set to be agreed
A key proposal among measures to help turn the tide on youth unemployment is the Youth Guarantee, which is aimed at ensuring that young people who are not working or studying receive an offer of employment, continuing education, and apprenticeship or a traineeship. At a meeting of Employment and Social Affairs Ministers in Dublin on 8 February, Irish Social Protection Minister Joan Burton chaired a discussion on the Guarantee, laying the groundwork for expected agreement at a Council meeting on Thursday week, 28th February.
EU leaders agree €6 billion Youth Employment Initiative as part of seven-year budget
At the European Council meeting on 7/8 February, EU leaders agreed a €6 billion Youth Employment Initiative fund as part of their agreed position on the EU Budget for 2014-2020. This funding particularly targets most afflicted regions in order to help get young people back to work, with special focus on implementing the Youth Guarantee. As stated above, the Irish Presidency is lead negotiator for securing the European Parliament’s consent to the 2014-20 Budget so these funds can be mobilised without delay.
EU-US trade agreement: agreement to start negotiations
As part of its agenda of stability, jobs and growth, Ireland has for long stated that EU recovery cannot happen in isolation; an ambitious external trade agenda is needed given that 90% of global economic growth is taking place outside of the EU.
As part of its programme priorities, the Irish Presidency will drive progress on an EU-US trade agreement. Last week, EU and US leaders agreed to start negotiations on a new comprehensive EU-US Trade and Investment Partnership and a key report by the EU-US High-Level Group on Growth and Jobs, was released. This is a breakthrough that could lead to annual benefits of over €150 billion to the EU and US economies.
The Irish Presidency will play a critical role in the opening talks by working out the details of the mandate among Member States. The Tánaiste has committed to making the most of Ireland’s close relationship with the US to get talks off to a good start, while Irish Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Minister Richard Bruton has convened a special informal meeting of EU Trade Ministers in Dublin in April.
Mislabelling of processed meats
Irish Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, as chair of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, acted quickly in calling together Ministers from affected countries to a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday 13th February. This meeting led to a clear outcome: testing in all Member States. Specific steps include introducing an EU-wide three month programme of control measures including random DNA testing of processed beef products in Member States and testing for horsemeat residues in slaughterhouses.
The issue will continue to get active attention at ministerial level as an agenda item at the 25 February meeting of all 27 Agriculture Ministers in Brussels.
Financial Transaction Tax
In January, at the first ECOFIN meeting of the Irish Presidency chaired by Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan, a key decision was taken to move forward on an enhanced cooperation basis for a Financial Transaction Tax – eleven member states indicated interest in participating. Ireland as a member state will not be one of the participating countries but we are committed, in our role as Presidency, to act as an honest and impartial broker in the discussions.
Digital Agenda: Data Protection and ENISA (European Network & Information Security Agency)
As part of the Presidency’s focus on the digital agenda, Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter devoted a session of the Justice & Home Affairs Informal in Dublin in January to Data Protection.
Also, the ENISA Agency, a centre of expertise in Network and Information Security, was originally set up to enhance the EU’s cyber security systems, through the provision of expertise, data analysis, awareness raising and developing public/private partnerships of benefit to all. Given the ever-changing nature of technology, there was recognition at EU level of the need to update the Agency’s remit and this was agreed with the European Parliament on 29 January. Irish Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, TD, warmly welcomed the agreement and noted that this development will provide an up to date and stable framework for the Agency so as to ensure European citizens and businesses continue to be protected while online.
Intellectual Property as a key to innovation and jobs: the Unified Patent Court
The signing of the Unified Patent Court Agreement in Brussels on Tuesday 19 February (on the margins of the Competitiveness Council) is one of the crucial final steps in providing innovative European businesses with a one-stop shop for registering and protecting patents within the EU. It gives enterprises greater access to patent protection at European level, and makes enforcement of patents more affordable.
Development Aid: Mali
As part of its external EU agenda, Ireland is placing particular focus on development and humanitarian policy, especially on the continuing global hunger crisis.
The EU agreed to resume development aid to Mali, as announced at a recent meeting of Development Ministers in Dublin chaired by Minister Joe Costello. Up to €250 million in EU funding will be made available in 2013 to support Mali to restore democracy and peace and to ensure that vulnerable communities can access nutritious food, clean water and sanitation. Since 2012, EU has already provided €116 million in humanitarian aid but resuming long-term assistance to Mali underlines the EU's commitment to supporting the Malian people during the challenging years ahead as they work to rebuild their country and their future.
European Year of Citizens launched: Citizens’ Dialogue events held in Ireland
President Barroso, Commission Vice-President Reding, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister Lucinda Creighton participated at the launch of the European Year of Citizens in Dublin on 9 January. This took place at a Citizens’ Dialogue event at Dublin’s City Hall, with a second such event taking place on 15 February in Cork involving the Tánaiste.
The European Year of Citizens is intended to promote awareness of citizens’ rights across Europe.